Trigger Warnings for violence against women, sexual/physical abuse and murder.
Pınar Gültekin was a 27-year-old Turkish university student with dreams and goals. She had people who loved her, responsibilities to fulfill, and hobbies to pass the time. Earlier this month, her former partner Cemal Metin Avci, a bar manager in the resort town of Akyaka, decided that he had the right to end her life, by beating and strangling her to death. Her burnt remains were discovered in a garbage bin covered in concrete, in a woodland in the Aegean province of Muğla. But she was not the first woman to be a victim of gender-based violence and femicide in Turkey, and she will not be the last – unless we help.
Femicide – the killing of women by men because they are women – in Turkey has always been a longstanding issue. Since 2012, the number of femicides has more than doubled in the country. At least 474 women were murdered in 2019, most of them by current or former partners, family members, or unrelated males who wanted a relationship with them.
By continuing to ignore gender-based violence and femicide, you are effectively supporting it.
As of 1 August, 177 Turkish women have been murdered in 2020 alone. Data on deaths is compiled from news reports and victims’ families by campaign group We Will Stop Femicide, which began tracking murders of women, after the government admitted it did not keep records.
The country became the first to ratify a 2011 Council of Europe accord, named the Istanbul Convention, on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, despite having a progressive agenda for the safety of women, a conservative section within Turkish media and social groups have been lobbying for Ankara to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, arguing it has a negative influence on Turkish family values.
Ebru Asiltürk, the spokeswoman for women’s’ affairs for Turkey’s Islamic conservative Saadet Party, is one such critic. In an opinion piece for Turkey’s conservative daily Milli, she wrote the treaty would be like a “bomb” destroying Turkey’s traditional family structure. She argued it would threaten the “financial and moral integrity of families.” In her view, the convention breaches Article 41 of the Turkish Constitution which enshrines the protection and unity of the family. She, therefore, urges Turkey to abandon the treaty altogether.
Not only is the resistance to the Istanbul Convention working against women empowerment in the country, but many argue that the silence of political leaders further enables this violence towards women.
While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took to Twitter to express his condolences for Gültekin (“Yesterday, we were overwhelmed with pain when we had to learn that Pinar Gültekin was murdered by a villain. I despise all crimes committed against women’), he has also expressed misogynistic views in the past, particularly that women are incomplete without motherhood, and has portrayed women as subordinate citizens.
As New York Times writer, Beril Eski, observes, “According to Turkish law, the applications of women seeking protection from violence are to be handled within 24 hours by the courts without requiring any evidence. The court may restrain a man accused of domestic violence from visiting the family house or the children’s school up to six months. It may restrict his communication with family members and confiscate his licensed gun. If he violates the order, he may be imprisoned. And while all this sounds like an effective way to handle such matters, without protective measures, economic support and psychological support, restraining orders are mere pieces of paper, often found in the bags of murdered Turkish women.”
Rabia Gursoy, a Turkish woman who is an Assistant Multimedia Editor for The Statesman and international reporter, also points how censorship and lax sentences for abusers further perpetuate violent misogynistic acts within Turkey.
As of 1 August, 177 Turkish women have been murdered in 2020 alone.
She told The Tempest, “I think the real issue is that people don’t speak up. They are afraid that no one will believe them and that no one will be able to protect them if they do. People get arrested for tweets, and that just prevents a lot of people from speaking up about issues in Turkey.” Censorship is a prevailing issue in Turkey, with a new amendment seeking to control social media, and increase online censorship. And women seem to be victims of censorship both online and offline.
Furthermore, as Gursoy states, “A great number of abusers are set free without properly serving their punishment.”
According to Eski, “Sentences meted out to perpetrators of violence against women are often lenient, and judges regularly reduce their jail terms. Quite frequently, the sentences are reduced simply on the basis of an accused or convicted man’s appearance. Men who wear neckties and suits during their court appearances get their sentences reduced so often that Turks have coined a phrase for the phenomenon: ‘tie reduction.'”
When a woman is murdered in Turkey, if she is lucky, her black and white photograph is shot across screens. A life is lost. Through such an event, the challenge for other women to post a black and white photo of themselves, to speak to the fact that they might be next to be murdered and have their photo released to the public in the announcement of their death, was started. Since its inception, this original message was sadly lost along the way (a reoccurring theme for social media) as women posted vague captions alongside their B&W photos, rather than Turkey-targeted messages. As Gursoy told us, “Awareness and accountability are so important in rooted problems like these. Social media is a great way to spread awareness. However, it isn’t enough.” We have to look at other means to help the women of Turkey.
Only through the economic, political and educational empowerment of Turk women will we see tangible change in the levels of femicide in the country. Women need resources to escape abusive domestic or workplace situations, and the human rights allocated to them to seek legislative justice. Listed here are just a few charitable groups that are dedicated to the empowerment of women.
The Turkish Women and Democracy Association, known as KADEM, is an NGO that supports human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of women.
Click here to contact them for ways to support their cause.
HasNa is an NPO that aims to provide leadership and technical training as well as the tools required for combating the problems faced by women in Turkey. More specifically, HasNa’s training program addresses NGO empowerment, integration of men into the gender dialogue, and creating stronger gender programs.
Click here to donate to their cause.
Click here to volunteer for the organization.
The Turkish Women Union aims to make women more active in social life and to help women secure their political rights. They achieve this through education and awareness-raising activities. Their campaign ‘Girls Not Brides’ is a global partnership of more than 1300 civil society organisations from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfill their potential.
Click here donate in support of ending child marriages in various countries.
The Borgen Project seeks to fight extreme poverty of which Turkey suffers from. This cause indirectly supports women empowerment through the employment of women.
Click here to be a donor.
The 30% Club is a campaign working towards gender balance on boards and in senior management, with a mission to reach at least 30% representation of all women on all boards and C-suites globally. In 2017, they launched its Turkey Chapter to improve gender diversity in Turkish business. This will empower women to be financially independent.
Contact Sevda Alkan (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get involved with or to find out more about the membership criteria for the Turkish Chapter.
The Cagdas Yasami Destekleme Dernegi (Association in Support of Contemporary Living) is an association that has been running campaigns to increase enrolment of girls population by utilizing civil and corporate funds toward establishing scholarship programs, building and improving schools, building girls dormitories, libraries, opening classrooms for pre-schoolers, etc.
Click here to support their mission for the advancement of education for Turkish women.
For a list of organizations that operate within Turkey, click here.
Warning: Many have accused change.org of ‘siphoning’ money from its ‘Chip In’ option rather than all money from donations going to the relevant cause so maybe don’t donate through their website.
Petitions do not exist in a vacuum. There are many more steps after signing your name to effect real change. However, they are a start. Petitions mobilize supporters and reinforce views. Their numbers strike governments with facts on how many are in favor of or against their actions. Listed below are only a few of the many petitions you could sign to help women in Turkey.
The Istanbul Convention helps in preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Continue to educate yourself
Turkey, like with most African and Asian countries, is not covered in Western/mainstream media to such exhaustive ends afforded to Trump’s twitter rants, Kylie Jenner’s net worth, and the hidden easter eggs in Taylor Swift’s latest album.
As the situation worsens, it’s important for the rest of the world to take the initiative to read up on countries that fall on the outskirts of their social media bubbles. Research the issue’s history and how it is currently operating in modern society. When you encounter someone who is not familiar with the topic, spread your knowledge. It is only through collective effort that a dent will be made in Turkey’s femicide crisis.
The sad fact is that violence towards women is not a new phenomenon. It happens to your next-door neighbour, the woman who bags your groceries, the CEO of your favorite hair care brand, and it could possibly happen to you. This issue will not disappear on its own accord. Abusive men will not wake up one day and cease their abhorrent doings. Systems need to be put into place to make such actions harder to carry out or get away with. By continuing to ignore gender-based violence and femicide, you are effectively supporting it.